Lake Garda, Maggiore and Como, Italy
We were really excited for my sister Leesa to arrive and spend time with her in Italy’s “lake country”. Given the heat wave across Europe, it was great to be on the lakes, as it was 35 - 40C/95 - 104F most days. My other sister Tara and husband George were cycling on their tandem bike in Germany at the same time battling the heat everyday - we certainly had it easier than them! We visited 4 of the lakes: d’Orta, Maggiore, Como and Garda.
We stayed on the east side of Lake Garda, in the town of Malcesine before we picked up Leesa in Milan. It is the largest of the lakes, almost as big as Lake Okanagan in BC, Canada. It is remarkably similar, surrounded by jagged rocky mountains, with small towns and wineries sprinkled along the shores. There are lots of boats and ferries on the lake, and we enjoyed paddle boarding and cycling here. There are more beaches here than the other lakes, so a bit more accessible for cooling off.
We drove to the west side of the lake to check out some of the towns and the famous stretch of road from the James Bond movie “Quantum of Solace”. It was not for the faint of heart!
Once we found our way to the top of the nail-biting road, we enjoyed a cold beverage at Hotel Paradiso and the stunning views. My sister Tara and husband George rode their tandem bike up this road, which took a lot of horsepower, but they definitely had more space to maneuver!
A town on the northern tip of the lake is Riva del Garda. It was fun to wander around and had an amazing waterfall.....
The backdrop to Malcesine is Mount Baldo and we were able to ride a cable car to the top (1760m/5774ft above sea level) and hike down. At the top there are amazing 360-degree panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and Lake Garda. On the way down it reminded us of hiking in the Rockies in both Colorado and Alberta. One surprise was coming across a herd of lambs near the top.
There was many paragliders flying down from Mount Baldo landing on a postage stamp size piece of grass right beside the lake. One of the pilots said it was a small space to land but was a soft landing if you missed as you would land in the lake!
We picked up my sister Leesa at the Milan airport, and a note for anyone flying here, there are 3 Milan airports, so making sure you are at the right one is important! We were both at “Door 7 - Arrivals/Ground level” talking to each other on the phone but couldn’t see each other - how could that be? Yes, we went to the wrong one, my bad, and yes, I had her itinerary and it was correct, but you have to read it for that to be helpful (no need for planning comments Jon!) I just had it in my head she was coming into Malpensa. Anyways, we finally got her at Linate and off we went for Stresa, a town on Lake Maggiore.
Lake Maggiore is not as large as Garda and the mountains seem closer. It is beautiful but a little trickier to access the water, cliff diving anyone? This is also home to the fairytale like Borromean Islands, and has many palaces converted to fancy hotels along the border of the lake.
One of the Borromean Islands just off the shores of Stresa is Isola Bella, an incredible private island, villa and garden that is open to visit. It was exceptional and we really enjoyed it despite the heat (36C/97F).
This is for my Auntie Donna, who has spent a good part of her life caring for ponies. These ancient horse harnesses date back to the 1500’s at Isola Bella. Can you imagine the weight on the horses?
‘‘Tis the season” for hydrangeas here - they are amazing!
We have an awesome newly renovated apartment with great AC that overlooks the main piazza (square), right in the middle of everything (shopping, restaurants, etc.) and a few minutes walk to the lake and ferries.
Out for a lovely dinner at Osteria Mercator, where we had buffalo mozzarella with prawns, pistachio risotto, pasta with tomatoes, chicken with truffles and hazelnuts, and pistachio crusted lamb on polenta.
We celebrated Canada Day on July 1 and US Independence Day on the 4th!
Close to Lake Maggiore, separated by Mount Mottarone, is Lake d’Orta where we went for supper one evening. Leesa had been there 15 years ago with her daughter Kyra and husband Guy. Kyra was a rebellious teenager then, so some of Leesa’s memories that she shared are “colorful” but also included a stressful drive through the narrow lanes to their hotel (I’m not the only one!). It is a very quiet village surrounded by thick, dark green woodlands, and has an island called Isola San Giulio right off the main piazza. It’s very magical.
We took a ferry across Lake Maggiore to the Santa Catarina del Sasso Monastery. It dates back to the 13th century and clings to the high rocky face of the lake’s southeast shore. The views on the way there and back of the lake were magnificent.
One of Europe’s finest botanical gardens is in Verbania, a town close to Stresa where we were staying. It is a villa and gardens, but the gardens are what is famous. A Scottish captain, Neil McEacharn bought the villa from the Savoy family in 1931 and planted 20,000 plant species from all over the world. It was amazing, even in 100F+ heat.
Leesa and Dean liked the sprinklers best:
This is the tree from Canada (Charlie Brown?)
My favorite of the whole garden was the lotus pond, I’ve never seen anything like it!
We drove to the northern end of the lake to paddle board, close to Cannobio. Paddle boarding has not caught on here yet, so you have to search for it to find it. It’s surprising as the lakes can be very calm and perfect for paddling. And there is so much to see!
After paddling, we were just 5 km from Switzerland, so decided to take a spin through. We were surprised with the budget cuts as we did not to see a “Welcome to Switzerland sign” and on top of that, we asked several people, but no one knew our good Swiss friend Bernhard Schneider from Canada!
We moved on to Lake Como next, where we booked a lakefront apartment in Lierna (near Varenna). We were looking forward to time on the beach relaxing - traveling can be stressful you know!
Here is an “Amphicar” that pulled up on our beach. It’s a German built car from the 60’s, of which only 4000 were ever produced. I guess you don’t get out through the door in the water!
A day in the original Bellagio...
We celebrated all 3 of our birthdays with a day on the water, compliments of my Dad! Thank you dad from all of us for one of our best days in the lakes! Dean loved driving the boat, Leesa was our tour guide and I was the photographer. Lake Como has extravagant villas and is very developed yet has beautiful spots for a cool dip!
George Clooney’s home, Villa Oleander:
Leesa and I kayaking:
Views around Varenna and fireworks:
Missed from last blog, we had an amazing meal in Verona that we wanted to include, the combination of food and flowers at “Locanda 4 Cuochi” was so interesting and tasty, one of our top meals for sure. We had cheese stuffed zucchini flowers with chickpea waffles, pepperoni ravioli on gazpacho with cucumbers and peppers, yummy pasta, and marinated veal with potatoes and humus.
The lake puppies, I almost took Agua home with me, she was SO sweet! Lucky is very young, only 5 months old.
“Monitoring”, a painting at Isola Bella, as well as an old puppet - the lady of the house was fond of her pups!